Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cabin fever Takedown: It never had a chance

Winter time in the Tanana Valley is cold, dry, and dark (but McKelvey Valley beats it on all three counts). Organisms here must either leave or adapt when the conditions become increasingly harsh. This adaptation can be both biological and behavioral. Humans tend to simply transform their immediate environment to suit their needs, spending nearly the entire winter in enclosed buildings, where an "African savanna" environment is artificially sustained. This is in contrast to warmer locations, such as Cappadocia where people have lived in places such as Uçhisar Hill and Castle, which is a large block of sedimentary rock sitting on a hill with rooms and stairways carved into it. (Uçhisar Castle puts Gaudi to shame, and Gaudi is peerless.) Sustaining emotional/psychological health in a harsh environment is also a concern. An indoor aquatic garden can relieve cabin fever. This winter around Christmas time I had unintentionally bred Buenos Aires tetras, and three lucky fry are now half an inch long and thriving in a separate tank. This is not a common event, in fact I think it puts me in a whole other class of fish expertise. (Still, though, it is more common than keeping a walking sea pig.)

Another way to relieve cabin fever is to do more outdoor activities. This summer I plan to build a few small outbuildings: a woodshed, a greenhouse, and a sauna. A sauna is a lot of fun in winter, its just a wood box with a stove. A greenhouse can allow an aquatic gardening hobby to explode in the summer, produce an abundance of fresh vegetables for the kitchen, and provide a platform for experimenting with photovoltaic power. A woodshed will keep my wheeled steeds ready for a ride at a moments notice, provide much needed outdoor storage to keep the property looking tidy, and allow me to test the appearance of shou-sugi-ban (焼杉板). After learning a few things about construction, I feel these projects (or at least one of them) lie within my means and ability to complete this summer. For a basic foundation, I will use flat solid concrete blocks and/or triangular concrete pier blocks with flat or slotted tops (to accept a beam or post). Some of these have anchor bolts and metal brackets already set. This should be sufficient on well drained soil that does not expand when freezing. A trip to the local hardware and lumber store is definitely planned! I'll need a good reference book, like Joseph Truini's “Build Like a Pro: Building a Shed”. I know that these aspirations depend upon my personal health, and my employee and academic performance, and that they should be balanced with improving my digital media and language skills. It's a reachable goal that requires my full conscientious effort.

Architectural flair is essentially unnecessary.  Here are two pictures, one from pg. 46 of Shelter by Lloyd Kahn and the other from pg. 172 of Low-cost pole building construction by Doug Merrilees, Ralph Wolfe, and Evelyn V. Loveday.  The first describes how to build a shed floor, the other is a basic shed.  This is primary reference material for the building projects.  With glazing in place of wood siding, I have a greenhouse.  With wood siding and a stove, I have a sauna.  With just wood siding, I have a shed.  One basic format, three different buildings.

This "parting shot" is Figure 4 on page 14, from the Introduction to "A Solar Design Manual for Alaska" by Richard Seifert, Energy and Housing Specialist.  Accompanying text explains: "Basic solar geometry at noon during different seasons, showing how the changing effects of seasonal solar elevation affect the optimum tilt of a surface for collecting solar energy..." Each season is drawn from the perspective of an imaginary point in space somewhere in the plane of the Earth's orbit. 

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